The Covid-19 outbreak in New Zealand has cost Restaurant Brands an estimated $15 million in lost earnings.

Chief executive Russel Creedy told investors the national shutdown had "cost dearly," with New Zealand sales down nearly $45m since March 25.

"The nature of our products means we never actually recover the lost sales because the consumption opportunity is not deferred but lost entirely," he said at the group's annual general meeting today.

New Zealand operations were hit by a full closure of all 148 stores for five weeks followed by partial closures for a further two weeks. Even now dine-in options are limited by social distancing measures and not running at full capacity.

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Creedy said sales were expected to return to normal in the second half of the year as the well-loved brands would prompt sales to bounce back.

"The kilometre-long drive-through queues on the re-opening of our KFC stores and the passion of our customers for our products, gives us considerable comfort that we will be returning to 'normal' levels of business in a relatively short time," he said.

Restaurant Brands kept all staff on full wages through the shutdown. This cost the company just $500,000 as wages were supported by the government subsidy.

Diversification softens the blow

Australian operations managed to avoid the dramatic losses seen in New Zealand as most stores were able to continue trading. While dine-in and take-out were closed, stores with drive-through and delivery capability stayed open. Just 14 of the 64 KFC restaurants were closed.

The loss of more than A$6m ($6.4m) in sales during the partial closedown was offset by reduced overhead costs. The hit to earnings was approximately A$3m.

The Hawaiian business was relatively unfazed by the crisis. Sales and margins held up over the crisis period, despite initial concerns over the closure of the tourist market, and operations were "business as usual."

"The variety of outcomes between our three geographies over the Covid-19 crisis confirms the wisdom of our strategy of diversifying our earnings into different markets," Creedy said.

Damage to full-year profit

The 2020 financial year started out well with the first quarter to March 31 producing a sales lift of $10m, or 5.3 per cent, to $200m.

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In the previous financial year, normalised New Zealand sales were up 3.5 per cent at $434m for year.

Creedy said the impact of the Covid-19 crisis would mean "a considerable downgrade" of profit performance for the current year but the outlook was too uncertain to give guidance.

"While we are planning for a steady improvement and are certainly experiencing strong signs of a resurgence in our sales volumes, the sales and profit shortfall of the past few months is not going to be fully recovered over the rest of this year," he said.